CONSIDER WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED TO GEORGE FLOYD IF HE HAD SURVIVED.
OP ED BY FORMER MINNEAPOLIS PUBLIC DEFENDER
I am an attorney in Minneapolis, formerly a Hennepin county public defender. I have witnessed Minneapolis police brutality over and over and over again. Dozens of my clients were beaten up, choked out, and brutalized by Minneapolis police officers. This violence follows a pattern. It starts when the police assault a ‘suspect’. Then it moves to city or county prosecutors, who shift blame to the victim in the form of criminal charges. Judges perpetuate the violence by finding it legal and permissible. The people who have the power to stop the violence, or at least condemn it, look away.
The big difference between my clients and George Floyd is that they did not die. Consider what would have happened to George Floyd if he had survived. Here is a snapshot of what he would be facing in the Minnesota justice system.
George Floyd wakes up in a jail cell, disoriented and in pain. Deputies take him into the courtroom for a bail hearing. The prosecutor charges him with forgery of a $20 bill, obstructing legal process (the formal name for ‘resisting arrest’), and felony assault on a police officer. The judge sets bail around $500,000.
George Floyd’s defense attorney challenges the stop, search, and seizure (arrest). The attorney plays the videos for the judge and argues that the police officers violated the Minnesota and u.s. constitutions by using excessive force. The attorney also moves to dismiss the obstruction and assault charges, because the video shows that George Floyd wasn’t resisting arrest or assaulting the officers. The prosecutor argues the police were just following their training.
The Minneapolis Police Department manual, section 5-311 (neck restraints), allows officers to use their legs to restrain a suspect’s neck when the suspect resists arrest. The prosecutor argues that the use of force was valid because George Floyd “actively resisted being handcuffed”, “did not voluntarily get into the [squad] car”, and “struggled with officers”. (these are quotes from the Hennepin county attorney’s criminal complaint against Derek Chauvin. This is how the prosecutor described George Floyd as a murder victim. Imagine what they would say if he were the defendant.)
The judge adopts the prosecutor’s version of facts, condones the neck restraint, and denies the motion to dismiss. The parties set a trial date.
Jury selection begins. There might be two or three black people in the jury pool. The prosecutor strikes all of them. The defense objects; the judge allows it.
At trial, each of the four police officers testifies. They have been prepped by the prosecution, and they testify in lock-step with each other. The defense either does not know or is prohibited from presenting evidence that two of the officers have a history of police brutality. George Floyd testifies and explains he didn’t know the $20 bill was fake and that he was not resisting arrest. He was scared. He could not breathe. He has an old felony conviction from Texas.
The jury deliberates. The police officers sounded credible, and they all said the same thing. The prosecutor said that George Floyd’s actions constitute ‘resisting arrest’ under the law. George Floyd sounded sincere, but he didn’t want to get into the squad car. He admitted he was scared. He’d had run-ins with the police before.
The jury finds him guilty of obstruction and assault on a police officer. They might vote not-guilty to the forgery.
George Floyd files an appeal. His attorneys challenge everything from the bail to the excessive force ruling to the convictions. The court of appeals denies all of it. The supreme court declines to review the case. George Floyd remains in prison.
The prosecutors take the appellate ruling back to the 3rd precinct station—it would not have burned down—and celebrate. The trial court and appellate court rulings validate the contents of the police manual, the use of neck restraints, the filing of obstruction and assault charges against a victim. Minneapolis city attorneys add this case to the “use of force” section of the police department manual. They use this case as an example when they train police officers about the use of force. They cite it in their defense briefs when police officers are sued for using neck restraints. District and appellate court judges cite this case in affirming similar acts of police brutality. The violence continues.
The cycle of violence within the Minneapolis Police Department is condoned and perpetuated by the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, and the Minnesota Judicial Branch. A special counsel, totally independent of the Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office, must review and rewrite the police department manual and training materials. Prosecutors must not file criminal charges when police officers use excessive force. Judges must dismiss such charges and/or suppress all evidence obtained through excessive force. They must stop prosecutors from creating all-white juries. We must fire attorneys and impeach judges who sanction police brutality. Only then will the cycle of violence be broken.